Chakastaypasin gang boss Calvin Sanderson, left, and Archbishop of Canterbury the Reverend Justin Welby, right, at the Bernard Constant Community School on the James Smith Cree Nation on April 30.Distribute

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the spiritual leader of one of the world’s largest Christian denominations, told Prairie residential school survivors that their stories of abuse in the institutions had “opened a window to hell,” as he listened. and apologized to them during a historic visit to Saskatchewan.

Traveling in the James Smith Cree Nation and Prince Albert, Sask., over the weekend, the Rev. Justin Welby, senior bishop of the Church of England, said his trip to Canada was meant to allow the church “to repent and atone” in places where their actions did more harm than good.

But an Ontario leg of the archbishop’s visit, set to begin Monday, is not going as originally planned, after survivors from one of the country’s largest Anglican-affiliated residential schools refused to meet with him. .

While the Anglican Church ran some of Canada’s federally funded residential schools, many more were run by the Catholic Church. A month ago at the Vatican, Pope Francis apologized to indigenous peoples for the “deplorable” conduct of some members of the church in the institutions. Officials from the Vatican and the Catholic Church in Canada are now preparing for the pope to visit Canada this summer.

First Nations leaders ask Pope Francis to visit residential schools

The apologies are the latest in a wave of regret by religious and government authorities, after several First Nations announced last year that they had located unmarked graves, which they said likely belong to children, on the sites of former schools. residential in the western and western United States. Central Canada.

“For building a hell and putting children in it and staffing it, I am more sorry than I could ever begin to express,” the Rev. Welby told residential school survivors and community leaders. Saturday in the gym of a community school in the James Smith Cree Nation.

“I’m sorry more than I can say. I’m ashamed. I wondered where does that come from? that evil? It has nothing to do with Christ. It is the crudest, most perverse and terrible thing to abuse a child while reading the Bible to him.”

Canada’s residential schools operated for more than 100 years, with an estimated 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children forced to attend, most of them unable to speak their indigenous languages ​​or practice their culture.

The National Center for Truth and Reconciliation has documented more than 4,100 deaths of children in residential schools, many from disease, neglect, malnutrition and abuse, and estimates that thousands more have died. The Anglican Church of Canada oversaw three dozen institutions for indigenous children between 1820 and 1969.

In 1993, Michael Peers, then Primate of the Anglican Church of Canadaapologized for the Church’s role in residential schools. One of his successors, Fred Hiltz, issued another apology in 2019 for the “spiritual damage” caused to indigenous peoples in Canada.

In Saskatchewan on Saturday, the archbishop said he apologized in his role as the spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, which includes nearly 1,000 bishops and 80 million people who identify as Anglicans and Episcopalians in dozens of countries around the world.

“You have opened a window to hell. And you have called us to look into hell, where you were,” she said.

When the archbishop’s agenda was first announced, it included an informal meeting with survivors from the Mohawk Institute in Brantford, Ontario, on land belonging to the Great River Six Nations. The institute was one of the largest and oldest Anglican-affiliated residential schools.

The National Center for Truth and Reconciliation lists 48 students known to have died there. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission mentions that the Institute had “punishment rooms” in its basement where students were held for up to a week after attempting to escape.

The meeting, scheduled for Monday, was to have been followed by an evening prayer service with indigenous leaders at the nearby Mohawk Chapel, the first Anglican church in Upper Canada.

But the Survivors Secretariat, a group spearheading the search for unmarked graves near the Mohawk Institute, turned down the invitation, saying the Rev. Welby’s visit was announced without enough time to respect indigenous protocols and without promises of concrete action.

Kimberly Murray, executive leader of the Survivors Secretariat and former executive director of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said in a statement that a group of survivors from the Mohawk Institute met in early April and expressed “mixed emotions” about the death. Archbishop’s visit.

“Survivors indicated that they were not looking for more empty words of regret but action,” he said by email.

On April 12, the group sent a letter to the leader of the Anglican Church in Canada, saying the survivors would only be willing to meet with Reverend Welby if he was prepared to discuss how the church could provide financial support for language revitalization. natives. and help retrieve records from the New England Company, the Anglican-affiliated group that founded the Mohawk Institute.

The secretariat suggested postponing the visit, “to allow time for proper indigenous protocols to be followed.”

Donald Worme, a Cree lawyer and former general counsel of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said that while the Anglican Church in general was more willing to help the Commission with its work than Catholics, that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be done. plus.

“The fact is that while Anglicans may have been less reluctant to cooperate than Catholics, they did not fully meet their obligations, and we know this because records are still required of them,” said Mr Worme. saying.

He added that residential school survivors need more than kind words from the Church of England.

“We have had 25 years and more of apologies, and the healing that indigenous peoples have done has been largely on their backs, for their efforts. That is simply unacceptable… words are not enough. It must be followed by concrete action.”

Instead of rescheduling the trip, the Archbishop will not visit the Six Nations territory at all. Instead, he will meet with indigenous clergy and Six Nations leaders in Toronto.

“The broader consultations proposed by the Survivors Secretariat were not possible within the time frame of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s visit,” Joe Vecsi, a spokesman for the Anglican Church of Canada, said by email on Sunday.

He declined to say who the archbishop would be meeting with in Toronto.

Barry Hill, a Six Nations Mohawk and the Mohawk Chapel’s keeper and historian, said he was part of a small group from the Six Nations community planning to travel to Toronto to meet with Reverend Welby on Monday.

He said he was asked by the primate of the Anglican Church in early March to help organize the Six Nations portion of the visit. Mr. Hill told The Globe and Mail that he found it “disturbing and amazing” that the tour was planned so hastily and with so little apparent involvement from Canadian officials.

“They should have formulated this ahead of time,” he said of the church. “He should have involved the governor general, who is indigenous… he probably should have had a word from our prime minister or deputy prime minister.”

But Mr Hill, whose grandmother attended the Mohawk Institute, said he still felt it was worth speaking to the Archbishop and trying to explain the complicated and intertwined history of the Six Nations people and the Anglican Church.

At the James Smith Cree Nation Community School on Saturday, Martha Stonestand was the first to tell the archbishop her story. The 79-year-old recalled running away from Gordon’s Indian Residential School in September 1954 with three cousins. The teens walked in the rain and took rides on their 200-kilometre journey north back to their reservation homes, he said.

Ms Stonestand said she was only able to spend a few hours with her family before RCMP officers came to take her away, threatening to jail her father if she did not return to school. Once back at Gordon’s home, Mrs. Stonestand was beaten, strapped down and had her long hair cut and shaved as punishment and for her to serve as a warning to others who might contemplate escaping from her. she said she.

Ms. Stonestand also told the archbishop about sexual abuse in the residential schools she attended, how her mother’s letters were kept from her by school staff, and how she was kept in institutions for 10 months every year, “without even come home for Christmas or Christmas.” Easter.”

Last month, the George Gordon First Nation said it had located 14 possible burial sites on Gordon’s school grounds. It is the tenth community to make such an announcement since last May.

“It was difficult to tell people what happened. And emotional,” Ms. Stonestand said in an interview after her meeting with the Rev. Welby.

“It was a good feeling to tell the Archbishop what happened. And he wishes there were more elders who could have told what happened.”

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